Performing sentiment; or, how to do things with tears.
Everything seems domestic. And yet such a strangeness wells up in our eyes, like tears. It's that she is already gone, she who is called Bathsheba. But the body remains. That much more body, that much more flesh, that much heavier here, now that she-Bathsheba is elsewhere.
Helene Cixous, "Bathsheba or the Interior Bible"
I BEGIN WITH A DEATH. NOT ONE OF THE innumerable deaths of opera's distressed women, although this death could be described as operatic, and it, too, was accompanied by copious tears. Instead, let us begin with the death in 1816 of Giovanni Paisiello, the celebrated composer of Nina, ossia la pazza per l'amore (1789), an opera famous for its virtuous, weeping heroine driven mad by the loss of her lover. Paisiello won renown for the delicacy and sensitivity of his musical portrayal of grief, but at the end of his life the composer's lot was as desperate as that of the fictional Nina. Paisiello was out of favor with Ferdinando, the king of Naples, for his strong connections to Napoleon during the political upheavals of the past two decades, and his reputation was in eclipse. Since he had lost his French pension as well as his stipend from the grand duchess of Russia with Napoleon's defeat, he was also experiencing financial difficulties. Jno Leland Hunt, with characteristic dramatic flair, describes the composer at the end of his life as a destitute, miserable figure: "He had been abandoned by the court, the nobility, and by all but his closest friends. He took these setbacks badly and was frequently seen weeping over his misfortunes." (1)
Hunt's image of the tearful Paisiello, who ends his days, like Nina, "weeping over his misfortunes," has a certain attraction in that it brings the abundance of tears in sentimental opera full circle, back to the composer's own biography. Perhaps it was this image of the penurious Paisiello, shunned by former connections and patrons, that inspired such an outpouring of grief upon his death. The funeral itself was elaborate: prominent mourners filled the church of Santa Maria la Nuova, including such luminaries of the Neapolitan school as Niccolo Zingarelli and Silvestro Palma, a onetime pupil of Paisiello whose comic operas were widely praised for their simplicity of style. According to Luigi Cassitto, a Dominican priest and one of Paisiello's eulogizers, "The last rites were celebrated with the greatest pomp and exclusively with compositions by the illustrious deceased, because who if not Paisiello was able to bestow homage on himself!" (2) The postfuneral obsequies sustained the same tone: a memorial volume of poetry, letters, and essays--the Onori funebri renduti alla memoria di Giovanni Paisiello, edited by Giovanni Battista Gagliardo and published that same year--praised and lamented the composer in language that self-consciously mirrored the tropes of sentimental opera and fiction. The end of the volume even delves into epistolary homage to the paragon Paisiello, a convention that would have been familiar to readers of sentimental novels.
Chief mourner, composer's double, and monument to Paisiello's enduring genius, the image of his most famous character, Nina, appears again and again in the Onori funebri. The poems and essays repeatedly invoke the weeping maiden, who waits in vain for her lover. One poem by Antonio Fabiani even imagined that her shepherdess companions would forever repeat Nina's most famous aria, "Il mio ben," at Paisiello's tomb--a kind of eternal, reverent Muzak.
E allor dolente, oppressa Tra l'alternar dei gemiti, E di quel nome amabile Pith non trovo se stessa, E solo a farla celebre Il pianto le resto. Ma sol di Nina il pianto Oltre la vita vivere No non potea degli uomini Senza il celeste incanto Onde il vestl l'armonico Tuo vasto immaginar. Compagne ai suoi dolori Voi pastorelle ingenue Deh! Vi affrettate a spargere Qui su la tomba i fiori, Ove dell'arti il Genio Si asside a lagrimar. Ed a quest'urna appresso Cetre temprando e flauti Da tutte insiem ripetasi Quel dolce canto istesso Che gia formo col fervido Sovrano suo pensier: Quel canto che un ristoro Porgeva al suo delirio Quando godea di attendere Il tenero Lindoro, E preparava l'anima Al colmo del placer. (3) [And then, sorrowful and oppressed, alternating wails with that beloved name, she lost her reason, and only weeping remained to make her famous. But Nina's tears by themselves could not survive beyond human life without the heavenly spell cast by your vast musical imagination. Her companions in grief, you innocent shepherdesses. Oh! Hasten to strew flowers here on the tomb where the Genius of the arts sits and weeps. And near to this urn let this sweet song that he formed with his fervent sovereign thought be repeated by all of you together, playing lyres and flutes: the song that offered comfort to her delirium as she awaited the beloved Lindoro and prepared her soul for the height of pleasure.]
At first glance this ode seems a typical memorial to a great composer in its assertion that Paisiello's music lives on beyond his death and that his most famous aria stands as a kind of enduring monument to his achievement. But the presence of the tearful Nina draws our attention to issues of performance both within and surrounding the text. The Onori funebri clearly bear the traces of their origin as performance, from the opening essay, which describes the ceremony, to the inscription that accompanies Michele Niglio's poem: "This sonnet was not recited because the author was ill." (4) Reading the volume, it is easy to imagine the authors declaiming to a weeping and appreciative audience. This fervent outpouring of literary tears, the sheer number of sonnets, poems, and odes that mention weeping, demonstrates the close relationship between theatrical display and the culture of sentiment and, further, the relevance of sentimental opera to cultural practice. Paisiello's own mourners "learn" how to grieve from Nina's example; in the Onori funebri it is the distressed heroine who is the model in the ways and habits of grief.
Although many modern readers would no doubt find Fabiani's ode unbearably maudlin, it establishes a link between weeping and singing that will be central to the texts I discuss in this article. What is more, it locates the sob-torn voice of the distressed heroine at the source of creative endeavor. However clumsily the poem tries to quarantine Nina's tears from the creative process in its overdetermined opposition between her deranged weeping and the composer's "vast imagination" and "sovereign thought," Nina's tears are contagious, first infecting the prostrate Genius, then morphing into an ensemble performance of "Il mio ben." Here Nina's tears seem somehow generative of all the weeping--and even of the music--that follows. The fluidity of the poem's tearful imagery suggests that feminine tears are more than simply an archetype of grief. Indeed, the very malleability of Nina's performance shows how feminine distress, because of its very conventionality, can detach itself from both the spectacularly displayed suffering body of the weeper and the composerly text, how it can exceed the "sovereign mind" that authored it.
In Paisiello's memorial, then, tears are both affective and effective. These literary tears are more than indications of the writers' grief. They are also a theatrical homage, enacting the weepers' devotion to Paisiello's most famous opera. Significantly, however, Fabiani's ode makes no mention of Celeste Coltellini, the singer who first brought Nina to life. This is perhaps not surprising--a detour to discuss the prima donna who embodied Nina, "creating" her in a manner more vividly immediate than either composer or librettist, might only have distracted from Fabiani's work of commemoration. Stories of Coltellini's convincing portrayal of Nina have become so iconic that it is hard to separate truth from fiction. Nearly a century after Nina's premiere Francesco Florimo famously reported that Coltellini's performance was so moving that women wept and cried out, "Rest assured, your beloved will return to you!" (5) Apocryphal or not, such a tale highlights an essential aspect of sentiment culture: its reliance on performance as crucial to effecting sympathetic engagement. Coltellini's weeping fans and Nina's starring role in Fabiani's ode neatly set up the central theme of this essay: the dual status of sentimental tears as both theatricalized performance and effectively performative.
Paying special attention to the role played by gender in the performance of tears, I consider the phenomenon of female penitence as a privileged locus for the construction of a sentimental femininity in which weeping is more than simply a sign of weakness. Rather, tears are a crucial term in the exchange of sympathy so vital to the sentimental economy; in the fictional worlds of opera and novels they are frequently portrayed both as a performance--staged for the entertainment of audiences both within and outside of the text--and as sincere, spontaneous emotion. I will explore this tension between theatricality and artlessness in operatic scenes of sentiment in the years leading up to Paisiello's death, moving from his Nina (1789) to the much later Agnese (1809) by Fernando Paer, a work based on Amelia Opie's 1801 novel Father and Daughter. Sentimental culture's delicate balance between sincerity and the artifice of theatrical display has been the subject of recent scholarly attention: in her work on Boccherini, Elisabeth Le Guin takes her cue from Diderot's "Paradoxe sur le comedien," which argued that the most effective performers are those who do not succumb to sentiment themselves. Le Guin has explored how the demands for naturalness, artlessness, and unconscious absorption in musical evocations of sensibility, all means of drawing in audiences and abolishing distance, are at odds with the requirements of virtuosity, "which inevitably confronts watchers with the gulf of their difference from the virtuouso." (6)
My focus in this article is not just on the ways that sentimental fictions "blurr[ed] ... the distinctions between reader and text, drama on and off stage," as Le Guin puts it, but on the ways that the fictions themselves complicate any seemingly clear distinction between texts and their performance. The preponderance of scenes of sentimental performance in such texts, I argue, can be understood as authorial attempts to harness the power of performance--attempts that often, ironically, end up undermining the very notion of authorial control. Throughout this essay, then, I will be less concerned with what could be called "real" performance--actors or singers or speakers who embody a fictional world before an audience--than I will with scenes of performance within the fictional world, which often serve as pointed or knowing references to the work of those performers who bring these fictions to life. And as the reference to J. L. Austin in my title suggests, I will be concerned not only with performance in these more mundane senses but also with the performative. Although my notion of the performative is not strictly based on the linguistic model Austin describes (i.e., utterances that effect an action by virtue of being spoken), I address performances of sentiment that seem to almost miraculously bring about the situations they describe. In tracing both the affective and effective uses of tears, I aim to explore how such scenes obscure the difference between text and act and thus create the possibility of multiple authors. In so doing I also hope to interrogate and denaturalize sentimental culture's supposedly natural connection between women and weeping, a connection that is all too easily taken for granted. (7)
Sentimental opera combined the humble characters and happy endings of opera buffa with elements of bourgeois domestic tragedy from novels (and dramas) of sentiment. Like their literary antecedents, these operas were centered on a virtuous heroine in distress who suffered insults to her birth and threats to her virtue but whose humility and defense of her virginity allowed her eventually to be restored to happiness. Richardson's Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740) is widely considered the genre's foundational text: Pamela's perseverance in thwarting the advances of Mr. B., her employer, transforms the libertine into a gentleman, and the serving girl is eventually rewarded with marriage above her station.
In such plots the heroine's virtue is typically communicated through her bodily distress; fainting spells, trembling limbs, faltering speech, and copious tears are all markers of her innocence and artlessness. The operas that took these sentimental texts as their sources are thus also structured around scenes of bodily display: physical distress musically portrayed through figures that imitate the character's sobs, sighs, and halting speech. For example, in Goldoni and Piccinni's La Cecchina, ossia La buona figliuola (1760), based on Richardson's Pamela, the heroine's musical language is simple and unadorned: periodic melodies are set against a discreet accompaniment texture that serves to frame her unaffected utterance. When distressed, Cecchina breaks up her measured phrases into small, almost declamatory fragments, and she sings recurring sobbing figures. (8)
By staging such touching scenes, sentimental opera establishes an economy of tender feeling based on the exchange of tears; a weeping, virtuous young woman in distress is a spur to demonstrations of noble sentiment by her audience, whether male or female, fictional or real. Male spectators were just as prone to tears as women; indeed, by showing their susceptibility they demonstrated the nobility of heart so valued by the bourgeois. Sympathy is thus crucial to the workings of the sentimental dynamic: it allows spectators to display their "finer" feelings while also granting worthy objects of sympathy a place in the social order. (9)
Stefano Castelvecchi, following Michael Fried, has argued that sentimental opera's staging of physical distress and sensitivity to emotion can be understood as part of a larger "antitheatrical" trend in late eighteenth-century culture. (10) Fried has shown how painters such as Jean-Baptiste Greuze began to dissolve the boundary between picture and observer by depicting subjects absorbed in their own troubles and seemingly unaware of being observed. Castelvecchi claims that operatic characters who are oblivious of the audience and distracted by their own melancholy represent a similar turn away from theatricality, understood as the obvious artfulness and display that characterized earlier opera. (11) Domestic dramas of unassuming characters and sincere feeling fulfilled, he argues (as have commentators on sentimental literature), a deep social need: the desire of the bourgeoisie to see themselves and their own concerns represented onstage. Sentimental opera has thus been seen as part of the growing trend toward verisimilitude in opera, part of the increasing desire to represent "real life," and part of the further project to erect an invisible fourth wall between spectator and actors. (12)
The turn toward absorption, Castelvecchi suggests, can be seen in Paisiello's abandonment of the self-consciously "theatrical" strophic song for the "natural," chaotic interruptions that illustrate Nina's distraction and distress. The fact that Nina breaks free of her regular phrase structures in the aria "Il mio ben," for example, and the disintegration of the aria into tiny speechlike fragments seem to place sentimental utterance clearly on the antitheatrical side. The physical signs of Nina's distress--sighs, gasps, sobs, silences--are represented by the increasing fragmentation of musical discourse; by the end of "Il mio ben" Nina proceeds by tiny "broken" gestures. Castelvecchi notices a similar technique in Nina's "Lontana da te," a number in which an actual onstage song (Nina is teaching a melody to the village maidens) is interrupted by wandering, raving music that falls outside of the conventional strophic form. (13)
From this perspective Nina's musical figures of distress are markers of the real and the natural, and her apparent unconcern with the audience facilitates the production of sympathy. But it is precisely this focus on artless absorption that has allowed critics to dismiss sentimental opera's weeping and distressed female bodies as simply objects of male pity and loci of the oppressive gaze. Claudia Johnson, for example, argues that for male spectators, the sight of a woman in distress provided the opportunity to prove (through feelings of pity) that "lagrimo, ergo sum." (14) Male spectators performed their masculinity through their sympathetic response to the plight of the distressed woman. As Helene Cixous puts it in the passage that serves as the epigraph to this article, the absorbed women of painting and theater are "already gone"; only their "bod[ies] remain." The distracted heroines of sentimental plots seem similarly to abandon their bodies, leaving them prey to the voracious and voyeuristic gaze of spectators who partake gleefully of Clarissa's, or Pamela's, or Nina's grief. (15) In such accounts an insistence on the sentimental female body as the marker of the natural, the virtuous, and the sensible thus seems to set up a particularly rigid dyad, with women always in the position of object (of pity or of the gaze), while the spectator (assumed to be male, despite evidence to the contrary) is the only party actively engaged in shaping his subjectivity.
Drawing a firm distinction between absorption and theatricality is problematic not only for the simplistic gender dynamic it suggests but also because it obscures the ways in which sentimentality itself is a kind of performance both onstage and off. That is, the sentimental mode relies equally heavily upon the staged performance of affecting feeling and the self-conscious display of the body performing distress. I would like to revisit Nina's scenes of weeping, resisting the pull of absorption as an explanatory category, in order to explore the self-conscious deployment of sentimental tropes both as a strategy of female power and as highlighting the crucial role of gender in the performative nature of sentimental culture. (16)
Nina's Singing Lesson
Unlike other mad heroines, Nina famously starts the opera insane and remains so for nearly the entire work. The audience soon learns the backstory: her father withdrew his support for her marriage to Lindoro in favor of a richer suitor. When a duel between the two men ended with Lindoro lying senseless on the ground, Nina believed him dead and lost her reason. Under the care of her servants, she now spends her days weeping, sighing, and waiting for her lost lover to return. But a closer look at Nina's bodily irruptions into what Castelvecchi calls "the song 'per se'" shows that they are much more than evidence of artlessness or the abandonment of the theatrical business of song making in favor of a realistic immersion in melancholy. (17) One moment in Paisiello's opera is paradigmatic of both Nina's sentimental mode and the fine line she walks between absorption and theatricality: when Nina teaches the village women the artful use of distress in "Lontana da re" (ex. 1). Nina's singing lesson is more than just that: it is, as Castelvecchi aptly points out, a lesson in how to perform sentiment. (18) Here is our heroine, supposedly too distracted to remember past events or comb her hair, calmly teaching the village maidens a lament for her lost Lindoro. When their uninspired singing does not impress her, Nina stops them, saying, "No, no: piu d'espressione. Sentite come dico io" (No, no: with more expression. Listen to how I do it). She then proceeds to sing the melody herself, adding sighs, sobs, and painful chromatic moans. In essence, Nina teaches the villagers how to insert the physical symptoms of distress into song.
Rather than revealing the theatricality to be corrupt or insufficient for expressing true or spontaneous sentiment, Paisiello's singing lesson makes it difficult to distinguish between natural expression and artificial performance. Nina's special insight into how to sing expressively is not hers alone by virtue of her distracted state. Sentiment, it seems, can be taught to and performed by anyone, for the village women readily learn her changes and dutifully sing them back to her. Nina's melody, with its chromaticism, tritone leaps, and Neapolitan-inflected cadence figure, revels in the tropes of the sentimental lament. And her most obvious invocation of musical sentimentality is, not coincidentally, a moment of self-conscious artifice. At the opening Nina's aria is neatly organized; an eight-measure phrase in G minor is followed by a six-measure phrase that begins in the relative major, then moves back to the tonic. First, the village women sing the phrase, then Nina echoes it back to them, giving them tips on how to sing "with more expression." Nina breaks up the word "lontana" by inserting eighth-note rests into the melody line, mimicking the effect of a body racked with sobs, and she lingers on the high E before dropping a tritone, transforming the leap into a huge sigh. Lastly, Nina alters the cadence, inserting a pause and exchanging the staid [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]melodic figure for the more pathetic sounding [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] gesture. Similar changes are made in the second stanza: on the word "stringendo" Nina coaches the village women to sing a hiccuping dotted-rhythm descent and to insert a pensive silence before the cadence figure (see ex. 1).
But the song, it seems, has led Nina to dwell on her beloved a bit more than is healthy; her mind begins to wander, and, as the stage directions tell us, she "falls into a delirium." Now her ravings lead her outside the boundaries of the stable eight-bar phrase structure, a musical detour that at first glance could be read as representing a turn away from the self-conscious performance of the lament. Here Nina's musical discourse becomes fragmented, hesitant, and fantasia-like. But even in the midst of her delirium she clings to the structural buoy of that pathetic Neapolitan cadence figure, which serves to anchor and organize her rant. Indeed, Nina never wholly abandons the artifice of strophic song. Despite her distracted state, she returns to the opening melody twice more, making it more stable and conventional by elongating the second phrase from six to eight bars (ex. 2). This symmetrical sixteen-bar structure supports an even more distressed-sounding tune, however, as Nina strips down her original melody to its bare bones, wearily gasping out "Nina a qui: ei non c'e!" (Nina is here, and he is not).
"Lontana da te," then, ultimately blurs the distinction between artificial song and spontaneous outburst. If Nina breaks apart the staid strophic structure with her wild interruptions, she also eventually comes to express herself in the form of that strophic structure: the words she utters in her delirium are, in the end, set to the initial melody she taught the village maidens. Certainly the disruption of the aria proper forcefully signals Nina's distressed state of mind, her distance from the reasonable and rational structure of "the song." But Nina's interruptions also obscure differences between structured artifice and unruly madness. When she returns to the song after her chaotic visions, the melody now seems to exist in a kind of gray zone: not quite artful, not quite artless. Nina injects the previously rehearsed lament with a kind of mimetic immediacy through her repetitive broken speech and her breathless pauses; the framing of her outburst by strophic melody, however, suggests that sentimentality is not pure artlessness but also necessarily a performance of it. The complex interpenetration of self-conscious "putting on" of sentimental symptoms to teach others the proper way of singing (the lesson) and the chaos of natural, artless distress (Nina's outbursts) suggests that the sentimental mode is not necessarily theatricality's opposite.
The Performance of Penitence
By arguing that Nina "performs" sentiment, I do not mean to suggest that her character is meant to be understood as insincere. On the contrary, my discussion seeks to show how sentimental expression moves between the two poles of self-conscious performance and reticent absorption. The way the body is pressed into service as communicator or referent of sincere emotion and inviolable virtue inevitably engages with issues of display: absorption always bleeds into theatricality. It is the balance between the two that is so characteristic of sentimental culture's production of sincerity. Nina's singing lesson is thus a paradigmatic sentimental moment precisely because it plays up the tensions inherent in sentimental display. Nina uses this performative power in a traditional way: to elicit sympathy from her witnesses. Taking pity on her miserable state, her father decides to make things right: he welcomes the miraculously recovered Lindoro back, prepares for Nina's wedding, and bids everyone to make no mention of the tragic events that led to Nina's madness. Thus the concern with performance even extends to Nina's cure, a "psychodrama," as Castelvecchi calls it, which stages the idyllic situation before the traumatic events of fatherly disapproval, duel, and madness.
Curing Nina's madness through the convention of the psychodrama displays a kind of touching faith in the efficacy of performance. But faith in such simple solutions--"let's pretend it never happened!"--seems to have waned as the eighteenth century drew to a close. Today we may feel slightly uncomfortable about the opera's "happy ending," which depends upon the heroine being misled by the men around her. We may wonder why her father does not have to apologize, why Nina is denied the power of bestowing forgiveness on those who wronged her--a prerogative enjoyed by most sentimental heroines. The opera's denouement trumps the performative power of the words "I forgive you" with a literal performance that restores the drama to its prelapsarian state. (19) This is not so much the dramatic working out of a conflict between wayward daughter and disapproving father as it is a testament to the power of performance itself to set things right.
But the performance of penitence and the role of the psychodrama within it become more complex in sentimental fiction after 1800. As the "put-on-ness" of sentimental woes gained more literary attention, female characters were invested by authors with greater awareness of their status as spectacle, confusing the distinction between object of pity and sympathizer. Nowhere is this more evident than in the portrayals of fallen women, those penitential figures who spend their days in tears in atonement for their sexual promiscuity. Tears and the display of bodily distress are crucial for the penitent, and they are especially efficacious for the fallen woman who wants to regain a place in society through penitential acts. (20) Cut out of her social and familial circles, the female penitent practices repentance as performed abasement that forcefully inserts her tearful, suffering body back into social relationships. In the refashioning of the sentimental heroine post-Paisiello, we begin to see more canny manipulations of the display of distress. In these new sentimental stories, many of them authored by women, femininity is constructed not only through one's status as object of pity but also through negotiating one's relationship to the conventional figure of the weeping woman. In some cases penitents borrow the power of performance, engaging in display of their suffering bodies with a kind of knowing awareness. Sentiment in these cases is not only performed but performative because it secures redemption for the fallen woman and serves to place her yet again into the social order. (21)
The main character of Amelia Opie's 1801 novel Father and Daughter, Agnes Fitzhenry, is one such penitent, a character who negotiates the tension between theatricality and absorption much differently than the operatic Nina did. Opie's novel begins with a scene echoed by all future melodramas featuring a friendless fallen woman: "The night was dark--and the wind blew keenly over the frozen and rugged heath, when Agnes, pressing her moaning child to her bosom, was travelling on foot to her father's habitation. 'Would to God I had never left!' she exclaimed." (22) Agnes, seduced and deceived, wanders with her child through a frozen midnight landscape after fleeing her seducer. She has finally received definite proof of his perfidy and is now returning to beg her father's forgiveness. Unbeknownst to her, however, Mr. Fitzhenry was driven insane by his daughter's downfall, and thus the one thing that Agnes craves above all others--her father's forgiveness--will be withheld from her. The plot, in a reversal of Nina's story, focuses on Agnes's excruciating effort to coax her father back to sanity and to be recognized as his daughter once more. The opening gesture, it turns out, is just a tease, for in the next paragraph Opie begins her story again, traveling back in time to narrate Agnes's seduction, removal from public life, and eventual discovery of her seducer's betrayal. But relatively little time or emotional energy is spent on these events. The flashback is told in a dryly matter-of-fact way, with a minimum of dialogue. It is not until the story resumes with Agnes's flight across the heath nearly twenty pages later that the true sentimental drama begins. The bulk of the novel consists of Agnes's long and drawnout repentance and the many scenes of tears and pathos that repentance requires. The story is primarily a moral-religious one, centering on a fallen woman's struggle to be recognized as a penitent and thus gain her father's forgiveness. Her task is hampered by her father's insanity, but, it must be said, his insanity also prolongs the many pleasing scenes of tears that Opie's readers must have reveled in.
In many ways Agnes is a typical sentimental heroine. Like Clarissa Harlowe, she is a virtuous girl led astray by a wicked and lying man who lures her away from home with promises of marriage. What sets her apart, however, is her self-conscious use of sentimental conventions to further her own aim of obtaining forgiveness from her father. This knowing use of tears to her own advantage is not presented ironically or satirically and does not seem to detract from Opie's characterization of Agnes as sincerely repentant. In fact, her sometimes conscious manipulation of tearful conventions actually seems to affirm her role as penitent; indeed, the novel is marked throughout by Agnes's curious awareness of inhabiting that role. From the beginning she is aware of the pathetic nature of her tale and, canny woman that she is, hopes that her desperate "story" will move her family and friends to pity. When Agnes realizes that she will have to walk the remaining distance to her former home in the cold and dark she does not hesitate: she wants to see her father as soon as possible. But, Opie continues,
perhaps, too, Agnes was not sorry to have a tale of hardship to narrate on her arrival at the house of her nurse, whom she meant to employ as a mediator between her and her offended parent. His child, his penitent child, whom he had brought up with the utmost tenderness, and skreened [sic] with unremitting care from the ills of life, returning, to implore his pity and forgiveness, on foot, and unprotected, through all the dangers of trackless paths, and through the horrors of a winter's night, must, she flattered herself, be a picture too affecting for Fitzhenry to think upon without some commiseration; and she hoped he would in time bestow on her his forgiveness:--to be admitted to his presence was a favour which she dared not presume either to ask or expect. (88)
Our heroine shrewdly reflects upon the effect her distress might have on her father. The text thus explicitly suggests that Agnes's plight as a seduced and betrayed woman presents a kind of distressing "picture" and gives the heroine her own narrative to tell, which she hopes will affect her audience. The notion of sentimental display as efficacious performance is revisited throughout the novel, especially when Agnes appears to the governors of the insane asylum to allow her to visit her father. Ushered into their presence, she is surprised by their kindness (they offer her a chair) and finds herself overcome by their sympathy for her plight:
Agnes, who had made up her mind to bear expected indignity with composure, was not proof against unexpected kindness; and, hastily turning to the window, she gave vent to her sensations in an agony of tears. But, recollecting the importance of the business on which she came, she struggled with her feelings; and on being desired by the president to explain to the board what she wanted, she began to address them in a faint and faltering voice: however, as she proceeded, she gained courage, remembering it was her interest to affect her auditors and make them enter warmly into her feelings and designs. (110, emphasis added)
Despite the fact that Agnes must master her emotions to tell her tale, she lapses into weeping by the story's end--to fortunate effect: "And when she was unable to go on, from the violence of her emotions, she had the satisfaction of seeing that the tears of her auditors kept pace with her own" (111, emphasis added). Agnes displays an awareness of the effect of her tears on her audience remarkable for a sentimental heroine. She is not only a weeper but also an observer and an actor.
The Absent Agnes, the Singing Agnes
The insistence on Agnes's sobbing, suffering body, on her sentimental presence, is paired with--or perhaps pitted against--an equal emphasis on her absence. Opie repeatedly describes Agnes as "having an absent look," withdrawn and unconscious of her surroundings. This is perhaps the most obvious evidence of her penitential melancholy as she meditates on her sins. In addition, the novel's other characters, most notably Agnes's friend Caroline, lament her physical absence from social events (such as weddings), which her status as fallen woman forbids her from attending. Agnes's absence, then, is social as well as emotional. Most importantly, throughout Opie's tale Agnes must struggle against her father's conviction that his daughter "Agnes" is actually dead. In his madness he is obstinate in his belief that his daughter, contrary to public opinion, did not shame him by running away with her seducer but actually died. The novel's heroine is in the strange situation of hearing her father utter her name only to lament her death. Thus Agnes's greatest sorrow is that she cannot draw her father's attention to her presence; despite her loving care and attendance on him, he does not recognize her and insists she is dead. Agnes struggles to bring herself into the land of the living in her father's eyes, to reinscribe her own presence over his continued insistence on her absence. Her perseverance in the face of her father's stubborn belief is willful; it certainly begins to seem as if the father's insane ideation reveals a very real preference for a dead daughter rather than a seduced one. Agnes's assertion of her weeping presence, then, signals her refusal to accept those societal strictures that would erase her from view.
The pattern is established in the novel's opening scene. When Agnes first meets her father on the frozen heath, he does not recognize her and attempts to enlist her help in looking for his daughter's tomb, which he believes has been hidden from him. On their second meeting Agnes surprises him in his cell at the insane asylum. He is sketching a picture on the wall--a coffin bearing her name. That this scene was considered one of the most affecting of the novel is clear from the fact that it was chosen to illustrate the frontispiece for the second edition (fig. 1).
A groan which involuntarily escaped her made him turn round: at sight of her he started, and looked wildly as be had done in the forest; then, shaking his head and sighing deeply, he resumed his employment, still occasionally looking back at Agnes; who, at length overcome by her feelings, threw herself on the bed beside him, and burst into tears. Hearing her sobs, he immediately turned round again, and, patting her cheek as he had done on their first meeting, said, "Poor thing! poor thing!" and fixing his eyes steadfastly on her face, while Agnes turned towards him and pressed his hand to her lips, he gazed on her as before with a look of anxious curiosity; then, turning from her, muttered to himself, "She is dead, for all that." (112-13)
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
In this context Agnes's fit of tears is an effort-though a failed one--to impress upon her father her own penitential presence. He bestows upon her some superficial signs of compassion, turning to her and patting her cheek, but remains adamant about her absence, responding to her tearful outburst with the chilling words "She is dead, for all that." This statement perhaps transforms his sketching from simple madness to a kind of grim gothic fantasy of burying a live woman.
Music plays a significant role in the story's emphasis on Agnes's absence. Like Shakespeare's Ophelia, Mr. Fitzhenry expresses his madness in song, and during one memorable visit to the asylum he breaks off from his usual agitated search for Agnes's grave in the garden to sing an aria from Handel's oratorio Deborah. Asking Agnes to take up the tune, he listens to her performance and finds it lacking:
Soon after, he asked her to take a walk with him; adding, in a whisper, "We will go find her grave;" ... When they had made one turn round the garden, he suddenly stopped, and began singing--"Tears such as tender fathers shed," that pathetic song of Handel's, which he used to delight to hear Agnes sing: "I can't go on," he observed, looking at Agnes, "can you?" as if there were in his mind some association between her and that song; and Agnes, with a bursting heart, took up the song where he left off. Fitzhenry listened with restless agitation; and when she had finished, he desired her to sing it again. "But say the words first," he added: and Agnes repeated-- "Tears such as tender fathers shed, Warm from my aged eyes descend, For joy, to think, when I am dead, My son will have mankind his friend." "No, no," cried Fitzhenry with quickness, "'for joy to think when I am dead, Agnes will have mankind her friend.' I used to sing it so; and so did she, when I bade her to do so. O! she sung it so well!--But she can sing it no more now, for she is dead; and we will go look for her grave." (113)
At first glance it may seem strange that Opie should have chosen this particular Handel aria for the heart-wrenching scene between fallen daughter and insane father (ex. 3). Sung by Abinoam after his son Barak wins the military victory that will free their people, the aria is peppered with the topoi of noble masculinity: dotted rhythms permeate the accompaniment, and the vocal line is characterized by fanfarelike ascents (m. 3) and leaps (m. 11). This aria is no conventional sentimental lament (the "tears" of the text are not painted mimetically in either the vocal line or the accompaniment), and it is not an open bid for sympathy in its original context. But when it is performed at a slow tempo it is easier to hear as "pathetic," and it is, of course, the performance of the song that concerns the author here. Opie's choice is no accident; rather, it is one more element of Agnes's painful penance. Her performance of the Handel aria is a kind of musical torture--one designed to twist the knife of her misdeeds even more cruelly through the dramatic irony of a fallen woman singing what used to be a hymn of praise to a virtuous daughter. Engaged in vocal travesty, she becomes a kind of puppet animated by the voice of a father who sheds tears of paternal pride over the virtues and accomplishments of his child. Agnes, made to sing of herself in the third person, can only be too painfully aware of how she fails to measure up to her father's expectations. And in case she may have missed the point, her father drives it home by repeatedly pointing out that "Agnes" is dead. Even when Agnes nearly faints after her first rendition of the song, her tears and swooning are not enough to impress her presence on her father.
"Very pale, very pale!" cried Fitzhenry the next moment, stroking her cheek; "and she had such a bloom!--Sing again; for the love of God, sing again:"--and in a hoarse, broken voice, Agnes complied. "She sung better than you," rejoined he when she had done;--"so sweet, so clear it was!--But she is gone!" So saying, he relapsed into total indifference to Agnes, and every thing around him--and again her new-raised hopes vanished. (114)
Pale where "Agnes" was rosy with health, her voice choked with tears where "Agnes" sang sweetly and clearly, our penitent looks to be fighting a losing battle with the all-too-real ghost of her former self. The sentimental performance that works so effectively on others (her father's friends, her servants, and sympathetic women) consistently falls short in bringing about her father's cure and his forgiveness. Even transforming the noble aria into a sentimental lament by injecting it with the physical signs of distress--the hoarse, tear-filled voice--does not work. In fact, the penitential Agnes's tears seem to inhibit forgiveness because they set her apart so forcefully from her former self, happy and confident in her father's approval. In Opie's tale, then, music not only fails to restore the father's sanity, it serves to further emphasize Agnes's absence. Although music has no power in Opie's prose, Agnes's song does bring about the desired cure in the stage plays adapted from the tale. (23) In a live performance, dependent on audience approval, it became somehow impossible for Agnes's singing to be anything but successful, because to do otherwise would mean the failure of the performer as well. Opie herself was known as a riveting performer and composer of sentimental parlor songs, so it seems unlikely that the failure of musical performance in Father and Daughter was an indictment of its efficacy. (24) Rather, we could read this failed performance as somehow doubly pathetic and therefore even more effective for the reader. Agnes's penitence is not only forcefully demonstrated in this heart-wrenching scene, Opie also prolongs the "performance" of this penitence and, by extension, her readers' pleasure/pain in Agnes's plight. Ultimately, Fitzhenry regains his sanity for what appear to be physiological reasons; he becomes seriously ill and in the moments before death suddenly recognizes and forgives his daughter. This scene of forgiveness is so brief it is clear that the prolongation of Agnes's penance was the point, not the forgiveness itself.
Mimesis and the Performative
No doubt partly because the representation of a fallen woman on the operatic stage was still frowned upon in 1809, Paer's Agnese is a very different heroine from Opie's Agnes. Commissioned as it was by a noble patron, Count Fabio Scotti, for the inauguration of his private theater, Paer's opera was first performed for a relatively small audience who were probably friends and intimates of the count. (25) In this salonlike atmosphere the tribulations of Agnese must have had a particular emotional charge. Agnese, like Nina, is a virtuous girl who formed an attachment with a man her father disliked. Forbidden to marry him, she eloped without her father's approval. As the opera opens, however, she has discovered that her husband is unfaithful; taking her young daughter, she leaves to seek out her father and ask for his forgiveness. Much of what follows is similar to Opie's tale: finding that her father has been driven insane by her elopement, she tries to nurse him back to health. One important shift in emphasis between the novel and opera has to do with the opera's semiseria genre. Because comic and serious elements are blended, male insanity is not always presented as an affecting and pitiable sight; rather, it is often an occasion for comedy, as in earlier opera buffa. But perhaps the most significant change between novel and opera is that in the latter Agnese does succeed in singing her father back to sanity. Luigi Buonavoglia's libretto for Paer's Agnese was itself based on Filippo Casari's play Agnese di Fitzendry and thus retains the theatrical emphasis on healing performance. In Paer's opera not only has the father character lost his reason, but he is revealed to be "unreasonable." The plot of Paer's Agnese, perhaps following the lead of Nina, shifts the focus from female transgression and painful penance to male error and paints paternal "forgiveness" as an admission of Fitzhenry's wrongdoing. If Agnes's sentimentalized performance of the Handel was bound to fail, the equivalent scene in Pair's opera succeeds for very different reasons. I would argue that it succeeds because the operatic Agnese briefly uncouples the performative from the sentimental, stepping out of her former tear-stained persona to musically create anew the conditions for forgiveness.
Agnese's sanity-restoring song (ex. 4) is quite unlike her earlier numbers, which are the expected sentimental laments and expressions of filial love. We are told that Agnese is performing a song she often used to sing to her father, but the melody's slightly irregular phrases make it sound as if it were invented on the spot. The aptness of the song's moral (a Christian parable of the lost lamb who is welcomed home by the shepherd despite its misdeeds), so applicable to Agnese's circumstances, also raises the possibility that Agnese has altered the words to fit her situation. In this sense her aria represents another fictional moment where the "real" intrudes into the performed, where the artless and the artificial meet. Agnese's rather didactic song is characterized by rigorous word painting, as if to imply not only that art should imitate life but that life should imitate art. That is, Agnese's father should forgive his daughter, welcoming her back like the lost sheep (agnella) her name implies.
Agnese: Se la smarrita Agnella, ritrova il buon pastor, in giubilo il dolor cangia ben presto. Dalle armoniose avene fa il colle risuonar, ne dal suo volto appar ch'egli fu mesto. Cosi seal genitor ritorna Agne ... Uberto: Ah! Agnese! [(Agnese:) If the good shepherd finds his lost lamb, his grief to joy quickly changes. With his melodious pipe he makes the hills resound, nor does his countenance show that he was ever unhappy. So if to her father returns Agn ... (Uberto:) Ah! Agnes!]
The song itself, with its lilting [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] meter and bright C-major key, begins in a deceptively simple manner. Compared to Agnese's previous melodies, this one seems specially designed as a display of artless naivete. The opening phrase, mostly stepwise but with a dancelike leap from the fifth scale degree to the tonic, is almost a parody of rustic simplicity. The poetry of librettist Luigi Buonavoglia only draws attention to Agnese's self-conscious rusticity; each stanza has three settenari lines (the first with a piano ending and the next two tronco) followed by a final quinario, echoing Metastasio's Arcadian verses. (26) Agnese's deliberate assumption of a pastoral mode seems a kind of vocal disguise, an effort to reclaim an Edenic musical space before her fall from grace.
The main reason for the aria's unusual stiffness, however, lies in its almost excessive word painting. The music is so stringently matched to textual ideas and images that melodic symmetry, in the form of parallel phrases or repeating ideas, is abandoned. Already in the second four-measure phrase the harmony leaves the pastoral field to become more complicated, moving into the mediant to paint the sadness of the shepherd. But this is only the beginning. As we might have expected, the end of the first stanza modulates to the dominant. But Paer appends a strange little phrase extension, repeating the previous two lines of text and prolonging the process of modulation: in measures 11-12 two abrupt chords leave the accompaniment hanging on the subdominant (C) as Agnese's vocal line leaps up and then descends, outlining the triad. This vocal flourish, with its final, challenging leap down to the middle C on "dolor," seems to depict the text's insistence that joy replaces sadness. The next measure, in which the vocal line noodles around chromatically on the word "cangia," vividly paints the much-anticipated "change" spoken of in the poetry while prolonging harmonic change and the cadence in G that closes the stanza. The strict musical mimesis continues in the second stanza, where Agnese evokes the sound of the rejoicing shepherd's echoing pipe with held notes and a scalar run outlining an octave. When the verse describes how the shepherd's happy face does not reveal his former melancholy, Agnese moves through a brief sequence to an appropriately melancholy deceptive cadence (m. 30).
All this meticulous word painting is more than just the purposeful simplicity of a rustic ingenue. Agnese's song is not a direct appeal for sympathy. She is a practical girl, and Paer gives her an aria that implies music should do something. Here melody seems to have a conjurer's power; music is so closely allied to text that Agnese's melody seems to have the potential to call into being the ideas and images of which she speaks. This relentless musical mimesis pays off: at the mention of her own name and the possibility of forgiveness, her father interrupts her song, recognizing her at last. A sudden shift to the flat-submediant--place of sudden developments--accompanies his realization and propels the scene to its happy ending.
Agnese's song is a musical performance, certainly, but it is also performative. Through her faux-naive musical mimesis Agnese shows her father how textual affect and musical effect are closely bound together, bringing about her father's cure and securing his forgiveness. By musically calling up the resounding hills and the shepherd's sadness, she sets the stage for the happy reunion of father and daughter. This moment of recognition cuts through the performance frame of the song and seeps into the drama, changing the course of events. Paer, then, stages another kind of sentimental lesson, one no less effective than Nina's singing lesson. Agnese's "Se la smarrita Agnella" shows that musical performance makes things happen: here is a lesson in conjuring up results by emulating their effects. This may be a lesson that works best in a smaller classroom; in later Parisian productions of Agnese Paer made significant changes to the work, including eliminating "Se la smarrita Agnella" in favor of reprising part of Agnese's earlier romanza "Come la nebbia al vento." (27) Substituting an actual musical reminiscence--the audience would easily recognize the mournful G-minor tune as a reprise of Agnese's act 1 lament--for a longer number full of word-painting effects changes the terms of the psychodrama being staged here. In Paer's revision Agnese's father is healed through recognizing her song, which has been transformed into a kind of icon of mourning. The first version, however, requires Agnese to abandon the imitative tears and sighs that characterized her music to this point--all the attempts to assert presence, we remember, that failed Opie's heroine. But in the Parma version Agnese has only discarded one kind of mimesis for another. She does not openly try to activate her father's pity; rather, she meticulously engages in the principles of psychodrama--act like it has happened, and it will. Agnese's success, her strategic manipulation of performance's possibilities, may help us to hear the copious tears of the sentimental heroine not simply as a "natural" symptom of distress but also as a cure for it: not only as a by-product of oppression but as a means of circumventing it.
This essay began with Fabiani's ode to the dead Paisiello; it is only fitting that we step back from the framed performances of sentimental fiction to close with another poetic homage, this one written in praise of a living performer. The first Agnese, Teresa Corradi Cervi, is little known today, but she was the subject of two admiring sonnets written by the poet Angelo Mazza, both of which refer to her performance in Pair's opera. (28) The first poem begins by cataloging Cervi's attractions, perhaps attempting to capture an impression of her physical presence in a more immutable literary form:
Bella per nere chiomi e nere lumi, E per aspetto amabilment fiero, Chi non cede, puo dirsi in odio ai Numi, Al prepotente tuoi' vezzi impero. [Beautiful for your dark tresses and dark eyes and for your delightfully proud look, whoever does not yield to the tyrannical rule of your charms can profess to be hated by the gods.]
Mazza's poetic imagery is what we might expect--it praises Cervi's beauty and manner while implying that all those in possession of their senses must surrender to her allure. The second sonnet also seems to juxtapose notions of transience or fluidity with images of permanence and commemoration: the breezes and the waves all murmur Cervi's name, and fauns "have inscribed [her] name in a thousand trees" (hanno il tuo nome in mille piante inciso). The pastoral imagery shared by Mazza's and Fabiani's poems is put to different uses: Fabiani's mourning shepherdesses strove to keep the spirit of a dead genius alive through a potentially endlessly repeated performance, while Mazza attempts to translate the elusiveness of Cervi's physical presence--and presumably her manner of performance--into an inscription that cannot be erased.
One tantalizingly brief mention of Cervi in the role of Agnese in the second stanza of the first poem, however, departs from the imagery of commemoration and inscription that marks the rest of Mazza's verses: "Se d'Agnese figuri atti e costumi, / Il finto adegua e quasi vinci il vero" (If you play the part of Agnese, / The fake adjusts and you almost surpass the real). On one level, we could understand this as conventional praise of Cervi's talents--she is so convincing that the simulation is almost real. But on another level, Mazza's poetic image evokes the effective, performative qualities of sentimental display that I have been concerned with here. Sentimental dramas rely, of course, on live actors to embody fictional characters--actors who draw the audience into a world where, for a short time, they may pretend "as if" Agnese and her plight is real. Acting "as if" might allow the artificial to change its shape and replace the actual; but framing scenes of sentiment as performance simultaneously works to maintain a lively distance. Mazza's verses--and especially that "quasi" (almost)--thus remind us of yet another kind of reciprocity involved in sentimental spectatorship. An audience's awareness that Agnese is embodied by a real woman is mirrored by the drama's own placing of its heroine at the center of a fictional spectacle.
Perhaps, though, in stressing that female power comes through performance (Opie, in particular, seems to imply that feminine assertion is necessarily tied to self-specularization, to putting oneself on display), I have simply replaced one stereotype with another. The image of the imperious and manipulative diva, keenly aware of her effect on an audience, was (and still is) a common one, and we may shy away from locating female power so firmly in the realm of simulation. (29) The next step would be to explore what effect, if any, such lessons in sentimental display had on the women who enjoyed them and whether the "spectacular" power accorded to weeping women in opera had any counterpart offstage. I hope, at least, that the preceding discussion allows us to reconsider questions of sincerity and deception, power and oppression, in opera and sentimental culture. Familiar notions of gender and sentiment may not apply here: weeping women are not simply "authored" by male composers and librettists and then "inhabited" or "performed" by women. Instead, we might argue that scenes of sentimental display are one of the many ways that, as Carolyn Abbate has argued, "opera takes into account the very means by which operatic works turn into sung reality." (30) What would happen if we viewed operatic scenes of feminine weeping as moments when musical texts gesture to their own performance? And what if we understood tearful performances as necessarily performative--able to make things happen in addition to portraying grief and distress?
Finally, attention to the performativity of sentimental performance offers a different perspective on power in the economy of sympathy. The value placed on mimesis in the age of sentiment goes beyond the notion that art should imitate life. Mimesis governs social relations as well; in the sentimental economy the weeper counts on the fact that a performance of distress will in-cite fellow feeling in those who witness it. The exchange of tears in this economy runs along gendered lines as it enacts critical exchanges of both information and power. But power in this context does not inhere in or adhere to individuals. Instead, power must be enacted to be real--power is always performative, flowing along with tears, changing the status of penitents, demonstrating noble masculinity or virtuous femininity, bestowing forgiveness or succor. The centrality of "absorption" in sentimental culture--all those women distracted and distant, mulling over their tales of woe--is thus more than the simple positioning of weeping women as objects of a pitying male gaze. The strange tears that Cixous described in response to the absent Bathsheba of Rembrandt's painting, silent echoes of the tears audiences imitated and exchanged with the distressed actors of sentimental fictions, suggest as much. Cixous reminds us that no matter how much the body left behind draws our gaze, "she-Bathsheba"--that is, the feminine subject--is always "elsewhere," not pinned down by the gaze but disruptive to it, causing "a strangeness, like tears" to well up and blur it. Here subjectivity emerges through relationships between audience and performer, between viewer and viewed, who mimic each other's emotions while keeping their inner eye on an intangible and perhaps unattainable self. This very eighteenth-century notion of subjectivity runs counter to later romantic notions of a bounded and autonomous self. Becoming attuned to this more subtle and intricate forming of subjecthood allows us to hear opera's weeping women differently and to better appreciate how such fictions tried to teach their readers and listeners how to do things with tears.
Epigraph: Helene Cixous, "Bathsheba or the Interior Bible," trans. Catherine A. F. MacGillivray, in Stigmata: Escaping Texts (Routledge: New York, 1998), 3-19 (here 7-8).
I would like to thank Wye J. Allanbrook, Michael Anderson, Laura Basini, Suzanne Cusick, Stefan Fiol, Emanuele Seniti, Mary Ann Smart, Holly Watkins, William B. Worthen, and my anonymous readers for their invaluable suggestions. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are mine. As this article was going to press I learned of another essay with a title similar to my own: Tobias Doring's "How to Do Things with Tears: Trauer spielen auf der Shakespeare-Buhne," Poetica (Munich) 33, nos. 3-4 (2001): 355-89. I hope Professor Doting will forgive my unintentional echoing of his earlier title. Doring has since published an expanded study in English on the same subject--the connections between theatrical scenes of grief and the religious culture of post-Reformation England-titled Performances of Mourning in Shakespearean Theater and Early Modern Culture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).
(1.) Jno Leland Hunt, Giovanni Paisiello: His Life as an Opera Composer (National Opera Association, 1975), 55. For a more sober account of Paisiello's final days, see Michael F. Robinson's account, which points out that, thanks to an amnesty pardoning all employees of the French invaders, Paisiello kept his royal appointments until his death ("Paisielio, Giovanui," in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S. Sadie and J. Tyrrel [London: Macmillan, 2001], 18:906-14).
(2.) "Gli ultimi uffizi religiosi furono poi celebrati colla massima pompa ed esclusivamente con pezzi di musica dell'illustre defunto: poiche e chi poteva se non se Paisiello tributare omaggio a se stesso!" ("Elogio storico," in Onori funebri renduti alla memoria di Giovanni Paisiello, ed. Giovanni Banista Gagliardo [Naples: A. Traui, 1816], 30). Cassitto was a Dominican father who both attended the funeral and was asked by Gagliardo to contribute a eulogy to the memorial volume.
(3.) Antonio Fabiani, "Ombra al mio cor gradita...." stanzas 6-10, in Gagliardo, Onori funebri, 91-92.
(4.) "Questa sonetto non fu recitato perche l'autore era indisposto in salute" (Gagliardo, Onori funebri, 108).
(5.) "Nel riprodursi la Nina in San Carlo, alia prima rappresentazione, in cui la celebre Coltellini faceva da protagonista, il pubblico fu commosso per modo, che nel duettino 'Il mio ben quando verra ... ' le signore protese fuori i palchi e piangendo, gridavano alla grande artista: Vivi sicura, verra, verra il tuo bene" (Francesco Florimo, Cenno storico sulla scuola musicale di Napoli [Naples, 1869], 319). There are differing opinions as to the truth of Florimo's anecdote: Stefano Castelvecchi believes it refers to an incident at a different theater ("From Nina to Nina: Psychodrama, Absorption, and Sentiment in the 1780s," Cambridge Opera Journal 8, no. 2 : 101), while Michael Zweibach notes that Florimo seems to have lifted the story from Paul Scudo's L'art ancien et l'art moderne (Paris: Gamier, 1854) and speculates that the tale may be apocryphal ("Marriage of Wits: Comic Archetypes and the Staging of Ideas in Five Comic Operas by Giovanni Paisiello" [PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2000], 204).
(6.) Elisabeth Le Guin, "'One Says That One Weeps, but One Does Not Weep': Sensible, Grotesque, and Mechanical Embodiments in Boccherini's Chamber Music," Journal of the American Musicological Society 65, no. 2 (2002): 225-26.
(7.) This may be because the cultural connections between women and rituals of grief are so visible and widespread. Tullia Magrini, for example, has explored the centrality of women to the work of mourning in Mediterranean cultures in her "Women's 'Work of Pain' in Christian Mediterranean Europe," Music and Anthropology 3 (1998), http://www.levi.provincia.venezia.it/ma/index/number3/ ma_ind3.htm (accessed January 4, 2010). The extensive literature on women and the lament necessarily grapples with the feminization of weeping. See, for example, Suzanne Cusick, "'There was not one lady who failed to shed a tear': Arianna's Lament and the Construction of Modern Womanhood," Early Music 22, no. 1 (1994): 21-41; Jan M. Ziolkowski, "Women's Lament and the Neuming of the Classics," in Music and Medieval Manuscripts: Paleography and Performance, ed. Jon Haines and Randall Rosenfeld (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004), 128-50; Kate Van Orden, "Female complaintes: Laments of Venus, Queens, and City Women in Late Sixteenth-Century France," Renaissance Quarterly 54, no. 3 (2001): 801-45; Elizabeth Tolber, "Magico-religious Power and Gender in the Karelian Lament," in Music, Gender, and Culture, ed. Marcia Herndon and Suzanne Ziegler (Wilhelmshaven: Florian Noetzel Vertag, 1990), 41-56; and the special issue of Early Music 27, no. 3 (1999) entitled "Laments." Such approaches focus more on performance than on the linguistic performative as defined by J. L. Austin in his How to Do Things with Words, 2nd ed. (1962; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).
(8.) For a more sustained discussion of Piccinni's musical markers of artless distress, see Mary Hunter's "'Pamela': The Offspring of Richardson's Heroine in Eighteenth-Century Opera," Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 18, no. 4 (1985): 61-76.
(9.) Both Hunter and Edmund Goehring have done much work on the social meanings of sympathy in sentimental scenes in eighteenth-century opera. In addition to Hunter's "Pamela," see her "Bourgeois Values in Opera Buffa in 1780s Vienna" and Goehring's "The Sentimental Muse of Opera Buffa," both in Opera Buffa in Mozart's Vienna, ed. Mary Hunter and James Webster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 165-96, 115-45.
(10.) Castelvecchi, "From Nina to Nina," 97-98. The discussion of theatricality in Michael Fried, Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980) can be found on pages 57-59.
(11.) Castelvecchi, "From Nina to Nina," 98-100. For Castelvecchi, even such apparently theatrical practices as "psychodrama" (the "shocking [of] the patient's imagination through what amounts to the staging of a theatrical scene"), an actual treatment for madness often featured in operas of the time, is ultimately "antitheatrical." That is, "the spectator (the patient) is drawn inside the representation ..., unaware of its fictive nature" (96, 98). Here again, the emphasis is on realism, on erasing any sense of artifice.
(12.) See Joseph R. Roach, The Player's Passion: Studies in the Science of Acting (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1985), esp. 160-94.
(13.) Castelvecchi, "From Nina to Nina," 104-6.
(14.) Claudia Johnson, Equivocal Beings: Politics, Gender, and Sentimentality in the 1790s (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 5.
(15.) See Laura Fasick, "Sentimental Authority: The Female Body in Richardson's Novels," in her Vessels of Meaning: Women's Bodies, Gender Norms, and Class Bias from Richardson to Lawrence (De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1997); and Terry Eagleton, The Rape of Clarissa: Writing, Sexuality, and Class Struggle in Samuel Richardson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982).
(16.) This interpretive direction is influenced by Robert Markely's "Sentimentality as Performance: The Theatrics of Virtue in Shaftesbury and Sterne," in The New Eighteenth Century: Theory, Politics, English Literature, ed. Felicity Nussbaum and Laura Brown (New York: Methuen, 1987), 210-30.
(17.) Castelvecchi, "From Nina to Nma," 104.
(18.) Castelvecchi, "From Nina to Nina," 105.
(19.) "I forgive you" and "I apologize" are what Austin would call "explicit performative" speech acts. Others include "I bet," "I promise," and "I do (take this woman to be my lawful wedded wife)" (How to Do Things, 4-11, 83).
(20.) For more on the cultural status of "fallen women," see Linda Mahood, The Magdalenes: Prostitution m the Nineteenth Century (New York: Routledge, 1990). Both Markman Ellis, The Politics of Sensibility: Race, Gender, and Commerce in the Sentimental Novel (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996) and Janu Matlock, Scenes of Seduction: Prostitution, Hysteria, and Reading Difference in Nineteenth-Century France (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994) deal with the representation of fallen women in literature, while Heather Wiebe's "Spectacles of Sin and Suffering: La traviata in Victorian London" (repercussions 9, no. 2 : 69-90) deals with opera's most famous fallen woman, Verdi's Violetta.
(21.) My argument here is influenced by Claudia Johnson's Equivocal Beings, which discusses in detail the feminist reinterpretation of sentimental conventions in Mary Wollstonecraft and Ann Radcliffe.
(22.) Amelia Opie, Father and Daughter with Dangers of Coquetry, ed. Shelley King and John B. Pierce (Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2003), 65. Subsequent references appear in the text.
(23.) See Opie, Father and Daughter, 287-309 for excerpts from two plays in which the scene of performance brings about Fitzhenry's cure.
(24.) See the appendices in Opie, Father and Daughter, 310-20, for examples such as "An Orphan Boy's Tale."
(25.) See Giuliano Castellani, "L'Agnese di Ferdinando Paer tra Parma e Parigi: Fond e versioni," Fonti musicali italiane 12 (2007): 107-23, for more on the premiere of Agnese; it is also possible that the count's friends and intimates were among the performers. Castellani describes Scotti's private theater as a teatrino--a small theater--located in his palace (107).
(26.) See Tim Carter et al., "Versification," in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie, Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, http://www.oxford musiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music]O008300 (accessed January 17, 2010).
(27.) Castellani, "L'Agnese di Ferdinando Paer tra Parma e Parigi," 121.
(28.) As far as I can tell, Mazza's poetry seems to be the primary evidence for Cervi's identity as the first Agnese. See Wolfram Ensslin, Chronologisch-thematisches Verzeichnis der Werke Ferdinando Paers (Hildesheim: G. Olms, 2004), 607. Based on the scarcity of information pertaining to Cervi, it is likely that she was a minor singer who worked mainly in the vicinity of Parma. Mazza's second sonnet addresses her as "Marchese"; if she was a member of the nobility, she may have had close connections to Count Fabio Scotti, Paer's patron. The two poems were included in a collection of Mazza's poetry published in 1818, though they appear to have been written on the inauguration of Scotti's theater in 1809. See Angelo Mazza, Poesie di Angelo Mazza, Parmigiano (Pisa: Presso Niccolo Capurro, 1818), 3:13, 19. Accessible online at Google Books, http://books.google.com/books?id=4zdJAAAAMAAJ& pg=PA13&dq=teresa+corradi+cervi&lr=&cd=4# v=onepage&q=teresa%2ocorradi%2ocervi&f=false (accessed January 17, 2010).
(29.) Both Mary Ann Smart's "The Lost Voice of Rosine Stoltz," Cambridge Opera Journal 6, no. 1 (1994): 31-50, and Susan Rutherford's The Prima Donna and Opera, 1815-1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), esp. 27-57, explore the pervasive influence of tictions about divas and strive to attend to particularities of stagers' lives apart from the stories told about them.
(30.) Carolyn Abbate, In Search of Opera (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), xiii.
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|Publication:||Women & Music|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2010|
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